Exploring the UK – my favourite UK staycations and short trips

Ideas for UK Staycations

I’m always going on about how many people overlook their own country in favour of backpacking more exotic climes, yet I’ve never actually written a blog post about travelling in the UK. Now is the time to remedy that!

A sunset drive in my Berlingo camper on the Isle of Man
There’s no excuse to miss a sunset when you embrace Vanlife

In our new Covid-19 world, overseas travel is going to be more of a mission. While many countries dependent on the tourist dollar are planning to reopen in the next month, with some offering alluring incentives to entice tourists back, planning a big multi-country trip with several border crossings looks uncertain in the near future. And perhaps we all have an obligation to contribute to our own local economies in these stressful times?

With that in mind why not commit to staying local this summer and becoming a Domestic Backpacker? I recently wrote a blog post about the joys of backpacking in your own country and now I’d like to introduce my top places in the UK for short getaways. They’re all budget friendly places, easily reached by public transport and have plenty to keep you occupied once you’re there.

The Penwith Peninsula in Cornwall

The Penwith Peninsula at the very furthest tip of Cornwall encompasses 33 miles of stunning coastline, the arty towns of St Ives and Penzance, as well as the official southernmost place in Britain, Lands End.

Driftwood sculpture, Pitch Up for several budget campsite options in the area,
Driftwood art on the South West Coast Path

Penwith is easily reached on public transport, with regular train lines and long distance coaches ploughing the route through Cornwall to Penzance. There’s a good network of YHA youth hostels in the area as well as independent backpacker hostels, plus many campsites to choose from.

Once in Penzance or St Ives the local bus network is fantastic, meaning there’s no excuse not to get out and explore this area rich in Cornish history and seafaring legends.

I’ve camped several times on the Penwith Peninsula and one of my favourite experiences was staying at a very basic pub campsite (£5 a night) on the rugged coastline between St Ives and Zennor. A day walk on the South West coast path, which stretches a staggering 630 miles and takes 30 days to walk in its entirety, is a great introduction to the landscape. I caught the bus into St Ives in the morning, picked up a Cornish pasty for lunch, then started the clifftop walk back to Zennor.

Scones with cream and jam, a cream tea in Cornwall
You can’t visit Cornwall and not try a cream tea

There’s too many top ten sights to count locally, but my favourites would be the Tate art gallery in St Ives, attending an outdoor play at the strategically located Minack theatre high above picturesque Porthcurno beach, crossing the cobbled causeway to St Michaels Mount and having a photo with the Lands End Sign post. And of course don’t forget to treat yourself to a Cornish pasty and a Cornish cream tea!

Gower Peninsula in Wales

Another fantastic coastal camping location is the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. Train or long-distance coach routes take you to Swansea, from where there are regular local buses around the Gower. Buy a day ticket to get best value and explore the many beaches of the peninsula.

All three miles of Rhossili Beach, Gower Peninsula
The neverending sands of Rhossili Beach in South Wales

The Wales Coast Path is another attractive long distance path and walk guides and detailed maps are accessible on the official Wales Coastal Path website. Following the path from one beach to another, stopping for a swim or an ice-cream is the perfect way to pass a day – just pick up the bus again whenever your feet tire.

There’s a handful of campsites around the peninsula and a tiny youth hostel in Port Eynon.

Rhossili Bay always makes it into lists of Top British Beaches and it really is stunning. Over 3 miles in length it’s a beachcombers paradise and also popular among surfers. If you fancy a lesson or need to hire a board, head for Hillend halfway along.

At the southern end of the beach by Rhossili village you can access Worms Head island.  Wyrm is an ancient word for dragon and when you first see the island from Rhossili Beach you’ll understand its name! It’s only safe to reach at low tides so check the information board (and your watch) before tackling the limpet-crusted rock pools.

Rhossili Bay, Gower, Wales
Beachcombing while awaiting another perfect Gower sunset

The Gower is all about enjoying the beaches or hiking the coast path with no major must-see sights. Swansea is worth an afternoon, in particular the National Waterfront Museum in the Maritime Quarter which delves into 300 years of Welsh history. Once you’ve had your fill, I’d recommend walking the promenade to The Mumbles, an old Dylan Thomas haunt and home to a Victorian pier and 12th century Oystermouth Castle.

The Centre for Alternative Technology, near Machynlleth, Snowdonia

Tucked along the southern border of Snowdonia is Machynlleth, the north Wales town known for its Comedy festival, weekly Wednesday market dating back to 1291 and the alluring Centre for Alternative Technology.

Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales
This tiny house was built for George Clarkes Amazing Spaces

I’ve done many short camping and hiking weekend trips in the Brecon Beacons in mid-Wales, with just a couple of trips up to North Wales. However last year I was really keen to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth. I’ve become more and more interested in alternative living over recent years. I’m 39 years old and I still don’t own a house or even rent one! I live a very nomadic lifestyle, working summers in the UK and travelling each winter. However one day I have a romantic motion of owning a little off-grid cabin miles from anywhere and spending my days reading and gardening.

CAT is known for promoting alternative and sustainable living and nestled into the hillside on an old Welsh slate mine. Wandering around the peaceful site, dipping in and out of various buildings showcasing different construction methods and reading info boards exploring eco-friendly practices like renewable energy and cob ovens, was a great way to pass a day and get inspired.

My friend Beck and I stayed at a quiet campsite just outside Machynlleth.  The site was a short drive to the coast – perfect for an impromptu evening beach barbeque then!

To make the most of our trip, on the way up to Machynlleth we stopped at Elan Valley just outside Rhayader to break the journey and enjoy a 6 mile walk.  The dams and reservoirs here were built over a hundred years ago to supply clean drinking water all the way to Birmingham.

Bridge at Elan reservoir, Wales
A perfect stop off during a mid-Wales roadtrip

Although we travelled to Machynlleth in my van, the Cambrian train route across mid-Wales links Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, stopping at Machynlleth. Local buses run to CAT as well as the coast.

Isle of Man

Kind of part of the UK, yet not really, the Isle of Man is one of my favourite places. It’s a self governing British Crown dependency, 190 miles off the coast of England. I spent a month there in 2019 while working at the infamous TT Races (billed as the most dangerous motorbike race in the world) and managed to explore much of the island.

Red phone box in Cregneash village, Isle of Man
Another scenic village on the Isle of Man

And really, anywhere that considers a  kipper bap to be gourmet food is fine with me!

Whether you’re into hiking or history, the Isle of Man offers something for everyone. Even shoppers will be happy with numerous opportunities to buy gorgeous woollen goods in the traditional Isle of Man tartan.

Driving the TT race course is of course top on most people’s list. If you don’t have a car, or wish to hire one, then it can also be done by bus or taxi. The course is 38 miles long, with a jaw-dropping section along the mountain road. There’s no national speed limit on the island, but it’s probably best not to attempt the daredevil speeds of up to 135mph that the racers achieve.

A more relaxed travel option is to head up to Snaefell Peak on the mountain funicular railway. Island lore says that from here, the highest peak at 2,036 feet,  you can see seven kingdoms which include the Isle of Man, Scotland, England and Wales, as well as the kingdoms of heaven and the sea.

Niarbyl coastline on the Isle of Man
The Isle of Man has some gorgeous coastline worth exploring

The island is linked to the mainland by flights from several cities including London and Bristol or car ferry from liverpool. Arriving into Douglas by ferry or air, it’s easy to pick up one of the regular local buses onwards to your destination. The Go Explore card is well worth buying, giving access to all the buses and railways on the island.

Scotland city loop – Edinburgh to Glasgow to Inverness

If you’re located in the South of England like I am, Scotland may seem very, very far away! However an overnight bus from London to Edinburgh or Glasgow takes just seven and a bit hours, is super cheap and you might even manage to get some sleep.

Glasgow street art trail
On the trail of street art in Glasgow.

Once in Glasgow, Edinburgh is just a short hop on the train, so it’s completely feasible to spend the day in one city then head to the other to stay your first night there. From Edinburgh, there are regular coaches plying the route over the Cairngorms to Inverness. All three cities have a plethora of accommodation to choose from, with hostels offering very competitive prices.

There’s so many things to do in each city but here are some of my favourites. In Glasgow follow the city street art mural trail, available as an online download. It’s a great way to explore the city while seeing the artwork.

Edinburgh city scenes
You too can have breakfast in Edinburgh and dinner in Inverness!

In Edinburgh, of course there’s the Scottish parliament, the castle and the blustery hike up Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano on the edge of the city. Then in Inverness, if the dramatic bus journey across snow-capped moors has got you keen, there’s plenty of hikes on offer from the Caledonian Canal towpath, to Loch Ness itself.

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